Knowledge about how oil spills harm marine species can be applied to how air pollution affects humans, according to a report published yesterday (December 15) in the Journal of Physiology.
Researchers at the University of Manchester looked across all vertebrates and focused on a set of compounds that bind to the surface of particulate matter (PM), called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
The amount of PAH on PM is associated with the negative effect that air pollution has on the heart.
In 2010, research on vertebrates after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which released large quantities of PAHs into the marine environment, showed that the heart’s ability to contract was significantly impaired.
Similarly, studies after the 1999 Exxon Valdez oil spill has shown that the ecosystem has still not recovered 20 years on.
The researchers have concluded that this evidence can be applied to humans and provides an indicator of the impact that the level of PAHs on PM air pollution has on human health.
Dr Holly Shiels, senior author of the study said: ‘Pollution affects all of us living on Planet Earth.
‘Due to the conserved nature of cardiac function amongst animals and fish exposed to PAH from oil spills, this can serve as an indicator to the human health impact of air pollution.’
Dr Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which partly funded the research, commented: ‘We know that air pollution can have a hugely damaging effect on the heart and circulatory health, and this review summarises the mechanisms potentially contributing to impaired heart function.
‘Reducing air pollution is crucial to protecting our health, which is why the British Heart Foundation is calling on the government to commit to reducing air pollution within WHO limits.’
In related news, hundreds of more people have heart attacks, strokes or asthma attacks on days where air pollution levels are high, according to new research by King’s College London and UK100.
Researchers studied Defra’s AURN monitoring stations during 2015, 2016 and 2017 to analyse days in England’s 9 largest cities where particulate matter levels were both high and low – and then looked at NHS figures on out-of-hospital heart attacks as well as hospitalisations for strokes and asthma.
The figures show that higher air pollution days trigger an extra 124 heart attacks, 231 strokes and 193 asthma attacks.
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